Analyzing WCW Problems
Author credit: Bill Banks, NaidO, and Gerwerk's Wrestling News
Low ratings, low attendance, bad moral, backstage problems, a skeleton crew in the office, etc., etc.
Calling a spade a spade, it's the current state of WCW. But then again, it feels like I've been through this all before. And as a matter of fact -- I have.
The current landscape of World Championship Wrestling is not unlike that of the World Wrestling Federation in 1996 and 1997 -- a time when the nWo and Eric Bischoff ruled the airwaves and the WWF was in dire need of change.
With time and great patience, that change came. But it took more than a year of weeding the bad apples out of the locker room, bringing in hungry, new office personnel and giving the young talent a chance to shine. Couple that with the WWF's new direction and brand identity, and it was a winning formula. It was only a matter of time before it regained the top spot in the industry.
I'm not one to sugarcoat the current situation here in WCW -- it's not a merry place to be on some days. It's Friday morning as I type this, and the parking lot at the office is half-empty. Fridays seem to be a vacation day around here. Simply put, many are not dedicated to turning this thing around, and I'd bet a large percentage don't even watch our shows. But it's not their fault. After years of being run by a corporation that shows little appreciation for what this company has done, office personal can't help but feel dejected.
But on the other hand, there are those who do care. We may be small in number, but we want to turn this thing around.
Again, it reminds me of the WWF in 1996 and 1997 when the Vince Russo-led regime convinced Vince McMahon to finally give them a shot -- and we ran the ball in for the touchdown.
Having been a part of the WWF re-building process and seeing the situation here, there are certainly many problems that have to be addressed before this company turns around. However, here are some solutions (in my opinion) that WCW could take to BEGIN change.
1. Address The Locker Room Issues
It's no secret that for years here in WCW, the inmates have controlled the asylum. In other words, the wrestlers have generally run the office, when it should be the other way around. That's like you going into your boss' office each morning and telling HIM what to do. There are several reasons for this: lack of leadership. We have a locker room full of lawyers, not leaders. It's all about, "What does this do for ME?"
There's also no one enforcing the rules, nor does the office enforce punishment except for extreme instances. In the WWF, Vince McMahon has the final say, and no one crosses his line. In other words, he commands respect. There's no one with that kind of power here in WCW. Vince Russo and Eric Bischoff come close, but they don't own WCW like McMahon does the WWF.
Another problem? There's no Talent Relations department here in WCW. In the WWF, there's Jim Ross, Bruce Prichard, Dennis and Lynn Brent, Kevin Kelly, Howard Finkel and others. Here, Terry Taylor does what he can, but he's only one man. There MUST be an effective Talent Relations department set up to handle talent problems. One of the major problems is the wrestlers' relationship with the office. The talent sees the office as the enemy because they don't have any confidence in them -- and for good reason! The talent thinks the office is full of idiots. On the other hand, most of the office thinks the talent is uncooperative. We have to mend this relationship -- and quick.
Solution? Weed out the bad apples in the locker room and get rid of the troublemakers. It's bad enough that screaming matches break out every few weeks, but it's worse that the younger talent has to see it. What kind of example does that set for them? However, weeding the bad apples out is easier said than done. Many have no-cut deals. But if WCW is dedicated to turning the company around, it's better to build now with the young and hungry talent than continue with headaches from others.
Once this is done, locker room leaders will start to emerge and police themselves. This should be the job of guys like Goldberg, Booker T and even Kevin Nash. They're the ones that set the example and command the respect of those around them. And give Terry Taylor the power to handle the Talent Relations problems and build a quality department around him that can manage them.
2. Admit We're In A Rebuilding Process
The one mistake we made early in the WWF when the competition started to heat up against WCW was that we tried to fight them from the get-go. However, as much as we tried, the nWo was revolutionary and the viewing audience was hooked into it. There was no fighting it, even though we tried. It wasn't until McMahon and Russo decided to regroup and rebuild the company from the ground up (including talent, characters and storylines) that success came. It took many months, but the people finally came around.
The major difference between WCW and WWF is that McMahon solely owns his company. He is free to steer it in the direction he chooses. On the other hand, WCW is a pimple on the ass of the AOL/Turner/Time Warner collective -- meaning we answer to dozens of other higher-ups, many of whom live and die by the ratings. With that said, if WCW is to rise above once more, then the higher-ups have to give us the necessary time to rebuild and realize the numbers aren't going to improve overnight. Will they do it? I don't know, but I'd love to hope so.
By the same token, the people within WCW have to develop the younger talent, as well. This company has pushed Hulk Hogan for so long that it seems like they don't know any other way! And as the creative force behind the shows, maybe it's time we gave some of that younger talent the main event spots and bite the bullet. No matter what's in that ring, we generally pull down the same numbers. Would it be better to give other wrestlers a chance and get the eyeballs on them? I think so.
3. Give Vince Russo The Time And Power He Needs
As soon as Vince Russo, Ed Ferrara, Terry Taylor and myself came to WCW last October, Turner slapped on creative handcuffs, and both wrestlers and office personnel have tried to undermine us.
Russo writes a certain kind of television show-entertainment. It's what got the WWF back on top. Whether you want to admit it or not, it was outrageous characters and storylines that brought the WWF back to prominence -- and NOT the great matches they currently feature now. What Russo did was create a NEW audience from average television viewers who became fans of the new WWF product. It wasn't the wrestling that pulled them in, but the outrageous concepts. You may disagree with me, but that's probably because you're a WRESTLING fan. Considering that DX, Mike Tyson and the phenomenon of a beer-drinking, middle-finger pointing, superstar name Stone Cold were major players in the turnaround, where does the wrestling fit in?
But understand thaqt all of that took time to develop. Right now, Vince Russo needs the backing of the WCW higher-ups and the power to rebuild how he chooses. This means Brad Siegel (head of WCW and Turner Entertainment) needs to support him and help him fight the necessary battles. Siegel must make the Turner higher-ups realize in for this to be successful, it's going to take time. Anything less will mean failure.
4. Turner Must Realize What Today's Audience Wants
One of my main concerns with the Turner television organization is the focus they have on the older audience. Obviously, that's their decision, but the continued ratings slide each year tells me they may not be in tune with what the television audience of today wants.
Another problem is the guidelines given to us by the Standards and Practices division of Turner. Other networks have the same type of checks and balances, but I question if they are as strict as the ones we face. For example, we are not allowed to call someone "fat." "Squeal like a piggy" will be bleeped because it may scare children. And the best yet? The term "foreign object" is off limits because it might upset non-U.S. citizens. We have been told to call it an "international object." These are just a FEW of the rules (of which there is no STANDARD RULEBOOK) that we are supposed to write two television shows around.
The greatest irony of all? Following Nitro and Thunder each week, you're sure to see movies such as "The Terminator" and "Striptease" which feature plenty of blood, death, nudity and mature situations. In the minds of many Turner higher-ups, we are "rasslin" and are treated as such under Standards and Practices guidelines.
I don't mean this to come out as a total knock on Standards and Practices. In fact, most of the people I've dealt with under the division have been very nice. My problem with it comes in the fact that they are told to operate under guidelines that are the opposite of what today's television audience wants to see.
5. Restock The Office With Young And Hungry Employees
One of the things that ticked me off today enough to write this column was the fact that the WCW office is a ghost town on Fridays. As a matter of fact, it's usually a ghost town the rest of the week, as well. Again, it was the same situation in the WWF in 1996. There were a limited amount of bodies in the office, and many of those didn't care about the product and didn't care to be there.
So we did them a favor and showed them the front door. And when that happened, the company made it a point to hire new, young and hungry employees into the office that would give a damn. The same must be done here. Let's stop making the WCW office a country club and start giving jobs to qualified college graduates who are actual WCW FANS.
6. Build A Creative Department Within WCW
My final suggestion is for WCW to build a department within the office that deals with creative design of posters, merchandise, Pay-Per-Views, logos, Internet graphics, etc.
The booking team of WCW can only do so much when it comes to making wrestling into "superstars." This is what the WWF does effectively. Their creative department (which consists of somewhere around 25-30 people) takes a new superstar, gives him a name, a look, a logo, entrance music and everything else he needs on television. Then, it is up to the writers to take that new character and build a story around him.
Here in WCW, there is no creative department. As a result, wrestlers must sometimes come up with their own look -- and don't get me started on the music. The booking team simply doesn't have the time to package the entire character, whereas the WWF can do so. And, with a creative department in place, WCW will finally have a brand identity. When the WWF got its "Attitude" in 1998, the entire company got behind it. Here, we still have yet to determine who or what we are.
Also, the creative department at WWF is responsible for designing merchandise and artwork that is used THROUGHOUT the company. Here, designs and logos are often created by outside companies, whose concept of wrestling is usually based on the 1980s. As a result, our merchandise, logos and graphics reflect that. It's not cool -- and certainly not hip. Again, it all comes down to bringing in young and hungry employees to fill that void.
The six problems mentioned above are just a FEW of the many WCW must address in order to succeed. However, we need to start somewhere. Having been in the same situation in the WWF in 1996 and seeing it again here in WCW in 2000 -- it can be fixed. But it's going to take a commitment by everyone. Are WCW and Turner willing to do what it takes?